By Dan Koob


LOWER MERION, Pa. (CBS) — Aces Nation has lost its heartbeat — that’s the reaction from Lower Merion High School to the shocking death of NBA icon Kobe Bryant. Bryant, a Philadelphia native who starred at the high school before starting a legendary NBA career, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday, according to CBS Los Angeles.

“It is Kobe Bryant. That’s what so many people think of this town for,” Zara Davis said.

Bryant was Lower Merion.

With news rapidly spreading Sunday of the 18-time NBA All-Star’s death, students and alumni came to his alma mater to pay their respects.

“A lot of people are just thinking about his wife and kids. He was part of this town. We’re standing outside of the gym that’s named after him,” Davis said.

Romeire Brown brought purple and gold flowers to commemorate a career that saw five NBA championships as a Los Angeles Laker.

“A sense of disbelief. It’s hard for anyone to comprehend what happened and the way that it happened,” Brown said.

Lower Merion School District spokesperson Amy Buckman read a statement that included a devastating message from Bryant’s high school basketball coach Gregg Downer, who still teaches at the school 25 years after Bryant led Lower Merion to a Pennsylvania State Championship in 1996.

“Mr. Downer said that he is completely shocked and devastated today upon hearing the news, adding that Aces Nation has lost its heartbeat. The entire Lower Merion School District community sends its deepest condolences to the entire Bryant family. Our basketball teams will no doubt pay tribute to Mr. Bryant as the season continues. But as this time as a district, we will concentrate on supporting those in our community, including Coach Downer and English teacher Jeanne Mastriano, who Mr. Bryant credited for sparking his love for writing.”

Local Athletes, Public Figures React To Death Of Philadelphia Native Kobe Bryant

As Bryant’s death was confirmed, Lower Merion was hosting intramural basketball games inside the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium.

On the court at the time? None other than the Lakers.

“It’s just really sad stuff,” Will Pitonyak said.

Follow CBS Los Angeles’ full coverage on Kobe Bryant’s tragic death